Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Just show up!"

"Just show up." The phrase haunted my alumni desk. I'd get a notice of a wedding or a funeral, a celebration or a memorial, and type the appointment into my calendar.

Once, headed down the freeway to a funeral an hour and a half south, I questioned the wisdom of arriving at a service for someone I had never known.

"Just show up." The voice in my head repeated several times as the miles hummed under the tires. "Just show up." OK, OK, I'm going.

So I showed up. I was ten minutes early. The family was chatting in the foyer, two daughters, their husbands, and one granddaughter, clutching a flute. One daughter drifted my way to find out who I was.

"Really? You are from the college Mom attended? She was only there a year, but she never forgot. She was so proud that she'd studied at Northwest Bible Institute. She married Dad and didn't finish." She smiled. "Wow. I can hardly believe you came. Thank you so much!"

"Not such a big deal," I thought to myself as I sat down, the first guest in a chapel empty except for a stunning casket and the funeral home organist. "It's my job after all, and our alums are amazing."

The family had gone through a lot of effort: the box was lacquered sea-foam green, the flowers were lavish, and the printed programs attractive. I read about Kay's life, wincing a the hideous cacophony of notes fighting the hands of an inept musician.

Another gal came in, after hugging one of the sisters. She sat near me. "I'm Marg's childhood friend," she introduced herself. "I didn't want to miss it. I'm supporting her. But also, Mom Kay was such an encouragement to me. She prayed me and my kids through a nasty divorce a few years ago."

Twenty minutes after service time, it was apparent that there would be no more attendees. The family walked in slowly, somberly, and scattered into the front two pews.

An older pastor climbed to the platform and performed the service. "Kay is the reason I am in ministry," he began. "When I was a youth pastor, she would help at events. She was a great influence on everyone around her.

"I'd get frustrated and discouraged, ready to quit. She'd come over, real quiet-like, and give me a hug, say a few words about how she knew God was pleased to have me serve him." The preacher sighed, brushing away a tear. "She's the reason I'm a pastor, after all these years." He delivered his twenty-minute sermon.

The family read their tributes. Kay had been a great mom and mother-in-law. A beloved grandmother. She'd faithfully volunteered for sixty years in her local congregation. She's been in the thick of things most of her life, but many of her friends had passed away, and her health had failed. The kids moved her to a retirement home twenty miles from where she had lived, so they could take care of her. 

The granddaughter played a flute solo, a hymn Grandma liked. Her careful performance clashed against the fumbles of the organist.

"Focus, Rosemarie, focus!" I tried to listen to her and ignore him.

The girl exhaled her relief as she walked off the stage to sit beside her mom. Her mom leaned over, took her hand, and whispered, "Good job, honey."

Then it was over. The family filed out behind the casket. They paused in the foyer to say good-bye. "Thanks again. We really appreciate it. Her friends must be too old to make the trip. We'll never forget that her alma mater honored her."

I eased back into the driver's seat, still in shock. This woman of God, well-known for decades, influential in her circle, loved and treasured by many. And only her family came, with one friend, and a stranger who heard a gentle, "Just show up."

I drove out of the parking lot. My heart was grateful. My body relaxed into the long drive back to work.

I have never regretted showing up.

1 comment:

  1. Rosemarie: NU lost a jewel in you. You kept us connected on a regular, sustained basis. I miss your updates to know what my former students are doing.